Morning on Kayak Beach

The Maine Greenland Kayak Festival

by Liz Johnson

This article appeared in the October issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker online magazine.

Kayakers around the world are drawn to the simplicity and grace of the Greenland paddle. It's the perfect tool for rolling, but its application goes far beyond rolling and paddling in protected waters. Some of the world’s outstanding paddlers today use Greenland paddles for extensive expeditions and rough water paddling.

Maine, home to the world’s first island trail, has a particular historical connection to Greenland. It seemed natural to celebrate that heritage, while helping Greenland paddlers develop the knowledge, skills and experience for exploring Maine’s unique coastal environment. So the idea for the Maine Greenland Kayak Festival was born.

Paddles Ready

An outstanding line-up of Coaches and Registered Maine Sea Kayak Guides agreed to teach classes on Journeying, Rough Water Management, Surfing, Rocks & Obstacles, and Beginning and Advanced Rolling. Greg Stamer, Ginni Callahan of Sea Kayak Baja Mexico, Dan Segal, Vernon Doucette, Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry joined Tom Bergh and Liz Johnson at Maine Island Kayak Company on Peaks Island for this ocean event.

Peaks Island and the surrounding waters, islands and ledges offer a unique paddling environment: from the calm, protected area by MIKCo’s beach, to channels between islands affected by tidal currents, to paddling in the exposed ocean swell around rocks and under towering cliffs. These "micro-environments" provide a perfect gradual progression for paddlers to experience a wide range of conditions in close proximity.

Ginni Callahan leads the way in Rough Water Management
Greg Stamer demos in the dining room

As we built Greenlandic skills out on the water, we also built community. Participants from Quebec to Virginia to Nova Scotia filled the 8th Maine Regimental Lodge. The 8th Maine is an amazing venue: an historic, Civil War era regimental hall perched above Whitehead passage and our “ocean classrooms”. Our communal living and eating together at the Lodge renewed connections, encouraged new friendships and even impromptu kayak instruction!

The event was a huge success, thanks to our great group of paddlers. As we lingered on the Lodge’s huge wraparound porch after dinner, the full harvest moon rose over the ocean. The conversation hushed as we watched the spectacle that moves the tides, drawing us into its circle.

Enjoying a Maine lobster diner
Shooting the Moon
Sea kayaking coaches paddling back from Ram Light in Casco Bay

The Power of Blue

With excerpts from Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness, by Elle Hunt, published in The Guardian, November 3, 2019.

In recent years, stressed-out urbanites have been seeking refuge in green spaces, for which the proven positive impacts on physical and mental health are often cited in arguments for more inner-city parks and accessible woodlands. The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicized, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.

West Brown Cow, Casco Bay

Proximity to water – especially the sea – is associated with many positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing, from higher levels of vitamin D to better social relations. “Many of the processes are exactly the same as with green space – with some added benefits,” says Dr Mathew White, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and an environmental psychologist with BlueHealth, a program researching the health and wellbeing benefits of blue space across 18 (mostly European) countries.

Blue Mind, by Wallace J. Nichols, delves into the effects of water on our health and well-being.

It's all about catching a break from the screen-fueled, fast-paced rhythm of our modern lives, Nichols writes in Blue Mind. White's colleagues agree: While people do experience a range of emotions by the ocean, many cite the way water, weather and sound interact to produce an overwhelming sense of mental tranquility.

Bue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols

"Blue is the new Green."

Water brings you to a calmer, more meditative state.

Blue space seems to have an edge over other natural environments – water has a psychologically restorative effect. White says spending time in and around aquatic environments has consistently been shown to lead to significantly higher benefits, in inducing positive mood and reducing negative mood and stress, than green space does.

Watching the sunset with Sea Kayak Baja Mexico

While we applaud connection with nature in any aspect, sea kayaking provides us with a unique connection to water, bringing us into the realm of blue.

Swimming class

A Layered Approach to Preventing Drowning

It happens to people who think it could never happen to them.

by Perri Klass, M.D.

Published by the New York Times on July 22, 2019.

Levi Hughes was 3 years old, on vacation with his family and five other families, when he slipped off the couch one evening last summer while the group was waiting for it to get dark enough for their annual crab hunt.

The family was renting a vacation home in Alabama with a group of friends stretching back to Levi’s father’s residency in cardiothoracic anesthesia.

“Our son drowned when there were six physicians in the room, 12 adults, 17 kids,” said his mother, Nicole Hughes, a writing teacher and literacy coach in Bristol, Tenn., who now works extensively in drowning prevention, including with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Everything I read about drowning before Levi died, it was like background noise,” Ms. Hughes said. “We think it’s happening to neglectful parents” who don’t watch their children when they’re swimming. But as she learned after Levi’s death, for most toddlers who drown, it doesn’t happen in the context of time spent “swimming” — that is, time they’re known to be in the water. And drowning is the leading cause of preventable deaths in children from 1 to 4.

“We took water safety very seriously — if you’d given me a list of 1,000 reasons one of my kids would die, drowning would have been the 1,000th,” Ms. Hughes said.

“He was on the couch in khaki shorts and a yellow crab-hunting shirt,” that evening. “I wasn’t on my phone. I wasn’t drinking,” Ms. Hughes said. “Of course, I relived these seconds a thousand times — how did we not see him go out that door?”

And yet, somehow, he got out the door and down the stairs to the pool. She walked out onto the balcony, which overlooked two pools, and saw a bright spot of yellow in the deep end.

She ran screaming down the spiral staircase, she said, and jumped in the pool, and when she reached her son and grabbed his arm, someone else grabbed the other; one of her friends had jumped off the balcony. “We had the best possible immediate response — how can you get any better than five cardiothoracic anesthesiology physicians?” They got a pulse back, but Levi died.

Ms. Hughes now advocates for legislation to provide more barriers around pools. The pool where Levi drowned had a three-sided fence rather than the recommended four-sided kind and had no pool alarm, she said.

She wants children to take swimming courses with a water survival component; she is wary of puddle jumpers — popular life jackets that hold a child upright — which she believes can convince children they will float. Most of all, she says, she wants to see a cultural change around our attitude toward water safety, as has happened with the “Back to Sleep” education program and with car seat and seatbelt use.

“This can happen to anybody and it only takes a short period of time, and no one thinks this is going to happen to them,” said Dr. Sarah Denny, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who was the first author on the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on drowning prevention. So there’s a good reason to bring this up every year, and review even what you think you already know.

[Read the full text of the Drowning Prevention statement. Review the A.A.P. Drowning Prevention Toolkit.]

“If you look at drowning deaths, there are two huge spikes,” said Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, who is the medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Oregon, and was one of the authors of the statement. One is 1 to 4 years old, and the second is adolescents, especially boys, from 15 to 19. Many of them drown in open water, he said, sometimes “while boating, or jumping off a rock, or underestimating the power of mother nature.” Drowning is the second-leading preventable cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds.

“We were lake people, we went to the lake every summer,” said Dana Gage, whose 15-year-old son, Connor, drowned in a Texas lake in 2012. “Connor was Coast Guard safety-certified,” she said. So when he got a last-minute invitation to a birthday party at the lake with friends, his parents agreed. It was the first time he had gone to the lake without them.

That evening, the boys at the party were playing follow the leader, and at 8:15 Connor jumped off the roof of the boathouse and did not resurface. At first, his friends thought he was joking, and then a frantic search began, and a dive team was called. “At 9 p.m. my son was pulled from the bottom of the lake, and of course, he could not be resuscitated,” Ms. Gage said.

An autopsy showed no other problems or injuries; he had not hit his head, Ms. Gage said.

“He was a heck of an athlete, an endurance runner, a swimmer. It’s inconceivable that he just jumped in the lake” and died.

With all the questions that people have asked her, the most important question, she says, is the one she never gets asked: “Where was his life vest?” If he had been killed in a car, not wearing a seatbelt, she says, there would have been outrage.

Every state has life jacket laws, she said, but most apply to boats, and only up to age 12. “As life jackets are coming off, the drowning rates are skyrocketing,” in adolescent boys, Ms. Gage said. “The only life vest laws we have in this land are connected to boating, but for every person who dies on a boat, there are six more swimming in natural water.”

Because most drowning prevention is focused on swimming pools and the risk to young children, she founded the LV Project in Connor’s memory to focus on open water and life jackets.

“When you move to natural water, there’s an immediate victim blaming: ‘Teenagers are not careful enough,’” she said. “Life vests on lakes should be like seatbelts in cars.” And parents should be

modeling safe behavior, she said, as they do with seatbelts.

“I would encourage parents to believe that their water safety job is not over when children learn to swim,” she said.

“We’ve decided as a society, we’re going to go to great lengths to ensure kids emerge from childhood into adulthood with the skills of driving a car; we have a systematic approach to driver’s ed,” Dr. Hoffman said. Water competence should be regarded the same way, he said.

“Swimming is really a life skill — your child doesn’t have to be on the swim team, but they should know how to swim,” Dr. Denny said. “How to keep yourself safe around water is just as important as other developmental milestones.”

Dr. Hoffman said: “There’s absolutely no way to drown-proof a child.”

Instead, “it’s all about layers of protection.” That means four-sided fences around swimming pools, alarms on doors that will signal if a child goes out, and, when children are around water, having a designated adult to watch them — in addition to a lifeguard if one is present. It means arms-length supervision for the young, and adults who know how to recognize drowning and are trained in C.P.R.

It means using Coast Guard-approved life jackets when people are out on open water. And it means making swimming lessons available to all; children growing up in poverty and minority children are at especially high risk, and are less likely to have access to swimming lessons.

“Drowning happens very quickly. It doesn’t play out as people expect,” with drama and calling for help, Dr. Hoffman said. “Kids just go down, it happens unbelievably quickly and silently.”